Anger over ageing Police Scotland fleet as force uses vehicles dating back to 1980s
It is closer in age to the battle-scarred Ford Cortina driven by Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt in the hit television show, Life on Mars, than it is to the Audis or BMWs used by the officers of today.
But in a stark example of Police Scotland’s creaking fleet and the pressures on its budget, the national force is still using vehicles which date back to the 1980s, with over 560 of its vehicles more than a decade old.
The oldest vehicle on the force’s books will this year turn 33 years old, having first hit the roads in 1989, the same year as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the death of Laurence Olivier, and the release from prison of the Guildford Four.
It is one of 565 vehicles - nearly one in seven of the overall fleet - that are over a decade old, according to newly released data which lays bare the challenges facing the force as it seeks to embark on a modernisation drive and switch to all-electric vehicles.
The use of such ageing vehicles sits uncomfortably alongside the force’s policy on replacing the cars, vans, and motorbikes in its possession. It stipulates that vehicles should be replaced when they reach five years old, or run up 150,000 miles.
According to its most recent decade-long fleet strategy, the average age of the force’s vehicles stands at 5.34 years.
It is understood the oldest vehicle on the fleet is retained by the force for specific and specialist operational purposes, and that it is cheaper to maintain it than it is to replace it. It is one of two vehicles owned by the force that is over 20 years old.
The details of the advancing years of the force’s fleet were obtained via a freedom of information request by the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
Liam McArthur, the party’s justice spokesman, warned officers must not be forced to rely on “short-term” and “polluting fixes.”
He said: "Staff at every level of the national force have raised concerns about serious budget pressures.
“The fact they are carrying out their duties in vehicles with decades under the bonnet is just another symptom of the pressure Police Scotland is under. What is more, the national force has barely even begun the mammoth transition to ultra-low emission vehicles.
“It is the SNP government's responsibility to ensure the police can afford the kit they need. It's right that usage of police resources is maximised but officers, staff and the public don’t want to see the national force dependent on short-term, cheap or polluting fixes.”
The force’s latest fleet strategy acknowledges its vehicles are not as modern as it would like, with an annual maintenance bill of around £4.7m.
The document notes: “Operating an older fleet has increased the frequency of repairs and the length of time for repairs to be undertaken.
“This has created a reluctance for officers to put vehicles in for repair as more time off the road is required and there is no guarantee of a replacement vehicle, particularly for emergency repairs.
“This creates a make do and mend culture and increases the risk of DIY fixes as a result of the lack of funding.”
Although the force hopes to become the UK’s first ultra low emission (ULEV) blue light fleet by 2030 - a transition which it hopes will slash annual maintenance costs - the latest figures suggest it has some way to go before achieving that accolade. Zero emission vehicles account for just 11 per cent of its fleet.
Jamie Greene, the Scottish Conservative justice spokesman, said it was “shocking but not surprising” officers were using vehicles which should have been replaced “years ago”.
He added: “This information lays bare years of chronic underfunding of the police by the SNP government, which has repeatedly ignored calls for cash for upgrades - not just from the Scottish Conservatives, but directly from Police Scotland themselves.
“In last month’s budget, the SNP rejected our calls for a £36.5m package of extra capital support to tackle crumbling police stations, decrepit cars and a lack of equipment - and instead imposed a real-terms cut.”
Pauline McNeill, Scottish Labour’s shadow justice secretary, said: “It’s concerning that so many vehicles are so old and clearly not fit for a modern police force.
“It seems unachievable at the moment to achieve the target of being the first force to be fully electric unless there is a serious injection of resources. I would like to think our police have the vehicles they need to do their job effectively.”
A Police Scotland spokesman said significant funding had been made available in the last 18 months to introduce ULEV vehicles, with more than 400 operationally deployed last year to support COP26.
He explained: “By autumn 2022 we expect to have up to a thousand such vehicles in use by officers and staff."While the majority of our fleet is cars or vans, we also have a range of vehicles which are subject to low use but are highly specialised, therefore may not have high mileage and it would be inappropriate to replace them simply owing to age when they are still serviceable and operationally suitable.
“We will continue to require a sustained high level of investment so as to continue with the modernisation of the fleet as we transition to a ULEV future. This will, in turn, continue to reduce the average age of our fleet.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said the total budget for policing in 2022/23 was almost £1.4 billion, including “an additional £40.5m increase in resource funding” and a further £6.6m to mitigate the impact of Covid.
He added: “Despite cuts to the government’s capital budget we have more than doubled the police capital budget since 2017/18, supporting continued investment in police assets including the vehicle fleet to ensure officers have the tools they need to do their jobs effectively.”